Rohde & Schwarz, which makes equipment to test wireless communications, has turned its sights onto the 6G market.
Specifically, the company is touting a website, hashtag (#ThinkSix) and general-purpose testing rig (the FSW signal and spectrum analyzer) for 6G communications. And though 6G today is much more of a concept than a firm technological specification, the company's efforts nonetheless add weight and heft to the notion that there will be yet another generation of wireless technology after 5G.
"Rohde & Schwarz is seen as a technology and thought leader when it comes to testing of wireless technologies and communication standards," Andreas Roessler, a technology manager at the company in charge of the program that launched last month, wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. "We fully accept this role and see it as our duty to educate our customer base and share information about upcoming trends as early as possible. That helps our community to stay well informed and make the right decision when it comes to investments into test and measurement solutions. The #ThinkSix campaign will help our customers to develop an understanding of what happens beyond 5G. What are the identified research areas, what are the associated challenges, and what is the potential timeline for all of this? We will discuss this and other questions within this educational campaign over the next months and years to come."
In a presentation on the Rohde & Schwarz website, Roessler speculated that – based on the development timeline of previous generations of wireless technologies – he expects the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to spell out a 6G vision as early as 2022. Then the world's spectrum policy regulators will gather in 2023 for the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), where they likely will begin discussing how they might allocate spectrum for 6G.
Roessler then reasoned that the 3GPP – the world's leading standards body for wireless communications – may release its first set of specifications for the 6G standard in 2027, possibly with its "Release 22" package of technologies (the group is preparing to issue "Release 16" in the coming months). He added that initial commercial 6G products could hit the market as early as 2028, with broad commercialization of 6G arriving around 2030.
"We are clearly at the very early stage," he noted in the video.
Roessler explained that the current discussion around 6G is very much in the "fundamental research phase." As a result, he said Rohde & Schwarz's current products are being used by some researchers in their initial forays into what 6G might look like.
"An initial trend that we identified is higher frequencies and wider bandwidths. We are addressing this trend, for example, by providing a new hardware option for our industry-leading R&S FSW signal and spectrum analyzer. With this new option, a user can analyze signals that are up to 8.3GHz wide. It is the first instrument of its kind that supports such comprehensive analysis bandwidth internally. Initially intended for IEEE 802.11ay signals and radar applications, we believe these capabilities will come in handy when the wireless industry moves to even wider bandwidths than supported today by 5G," he explained, noting that when the 6G standard matures, the company will likely develop more specific test equipment.
Rohde & Schwarz, of course, is not alone. After all, in its 2019 annual report, China's Huawei said it had kicked off research into 6G, including "air interface technologies, new network architectures, and key enabling technologies." More recently, ZTE said it would partner with China Unicom on 6G to support speeds up to 20 Gbit/s.
In the US, the FCC voted last year to approve experiments in spectrum above 95GHz. And just last month, US telecom standards organization ATIS argued that it's now time for "leading companies in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry to join with government in a shared commitment that will put the US at the forefront of technology leadership for the next decade" to ensure "the US will be at the forefront of 6G development and deployment."
And what might 6G support? Researchers so far are not sure, but they have plenty of ideas. "Mobile communications networks and especially the forthcoming 5G networks, as well as the future 6G networks, are getting more complicated and heterogeneous," wrote a group of researchers in a new paper from technology association IEEE speculating on the parameters of 6G. "The typical operation of these networks with denser deployments, more base stations, countless users, as well as the new technologies that are expected to be introduced in 6G networks like the Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Terahertz (THz) band communications, etc. renders any known information theory incapable to directly model the behavior and their dynamics. This is further exacerbated, by the trend toward the softwarization of networking functionalities and the dynamic orchestration of networked services. Complex systems theory could become a useful and effective tool capable to model at some degree the behavior of these networks."